- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 20, 2002

DUNVEGAN CASTLE, Scotland In the wild mountains of the Isle of Skye, the chief of Clan MacLeod is seeking his family's salvation.
He's doing it in the time-honored way of hard-pressed British aristocrats by selling a family heirloom. In this case, the Black Cuillin mountains.
"We have been in this part of the world since the beginning of recorded time," John MacLeod said, standing on the battlements of the castle owned by his family for 800 years. "It is dreadful, but there is nothing else I can do."
The castle, perched on a slab of rock on the edge of Loch Dunvegan, is the crux of his problem. (On the Internet www.dunvegancastle.com). It so dilapidated that the 66-year-old clan chief is trying to sell the mountain range for about $14.5 million to raise the money needed for urgent repairs.
The Black Cuillins, a rugged stretch of peaks, are considered among the most beautiful in Scotland.
The price includes a hill farm, two salmon and sea-trout rivers, 14 miles of coastline and a campsite for the climbers who practice their art on the Cuillins' sheer crags and cliffs.
Mr. MacLeod insists the sale is the only workable option for restoring the castle, which is a major tourist attraction and an important source of employment on the island.
The plan angers some islanders and conservationists, who argue Mr. MacLeod should not be able to sell the bleak crags and heath land.
"I think it is diabolical," said Jim McKechnie, who runs a youth hostel in the nearby fishing village of Portree, the chief settlement on Skye. "The Cuillin Hills are the most eye-catching bit of the whole island. Nobody should be able to own something like that."
But after public complaints, a government commission confirmed that a charter of 1611 gave Mr. MacLeod's family title to the 35 square miles of wilderness.
Mr. MacLeod then offered not to sell the hills, if the government would pay for repairing his castle. He was accused of blackmailing the nation.
An affable character with bouffant white hair, dressed in a tartan kilt and sheepskin jerkin, Mr. MacLeod insists he has explored all ideas for repairing the castle, and the sale is the only option.
An offer by the Historic Scotland preservation agency to provide $145,000 in grants over four years is not enough, he says. Without an immediate, huge cash injection, he says, the medieval castle would be covered in scaffolding for 10 years spelling commercial doom for the tourist attraction.
"The one thing that the tourist market hates is scaffolding," Mr. MacLeod said. "The Cuillin Hills are unchanging and will remain freely accessible to all, but the other national treasure for which I am responsible, Dunvegan Castle, is not so durable. It is the castle's need for fundamental maintenance which is the reason behind the sale."
The rooms open to the public are beautifully preserved. Walls are lined with imposing family portraits and glass cabinets display the MacLeod clan's heritage, including a horn from which a new clan chief must drink almost two pints of claret in one go.
But behind the polished oak doors marked "private," the castle is crumbling. Paint and plaster flake from ceilings. The air is musty with rising damp. Walls are marred by holes where contractors have ripped out woodwork to test for dry rot.
"Fifteen years ago, my guests had to put up umbrellas in their bedrooms as the roof was leaking so badly," said Mr. MacLeod. "The thought of the Cuillins on the market causes me intense inner grief, and I deeply sympathize with those members of the public who share that feeling. But I had to do something drastic."
Guy Galbraith of FPD Savills in Edinburgh, the sales agent, maintains that whoever buys the mountain range will have to preserve it. Rare Carabid beetles scuttle around the mountain tops, making the hills an officially designated "site of special scientific interest."

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